Toward Columbus: Cuban strife must end; companion relationships urged

May 23, 2006

Legislation calling for an "immediate end to all portions of the United States economic embargo against the Republic of Cuba" will be presented to the 75th General Convention when it meets June 13-21 in Columbus, Ohio.

Resolution A016, drafted by the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns (AIPJC), asks dioceses and parishes in the Episcopal Church to consider the establishment of companion relationships with the Episcopal Church of Cuba -- known locally as Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba (IEB) -- to offer spiritual and, where possible, financial support.

Hoping to promote the exchange of religious and political ideals, the resolution also encourages "all members" of the Episcopal Church to travel to Cuba as well as receive delegations from the IEB, subject to approval by the U.S. government.

Finally, the resolution calls for the Episcopal Church to recommit itself "at all levels to pray for the reconciliation of the United States and the Republic of Cuba."

The legislation comes on the heels of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold's six-day pastoral visit to the country in February, when he met with Cuban president Fidel Castro, publicly voiced concerns about the embargo, and vowed to encourage his successor -- to be elected June 18 in Columbus -- to participate in the annual meetings of the diocese's Metropolitan Council.

The members of that council are the Primates of the Anglican Church of Canada, the West Indies, and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who has been represented in recent decades by a bishop from the Episcopal Church's Province IX.

Until 1967, the Diocese of Cuba was a member of the Episcopal Church. A vote by the Diocese of Cuba to rejoin the Episcopal Church failed narrowly in 2003.

Ending 'the blockade'

General Convention has been calling for the lifting of the U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba -- known to Cubans as "el bloqueo" or "the blockade" -- since the early 1990s.

The Church's Office of Government Relations (OGR) in Washington D.C. advocates against the embargo both through direct engagement with Congress and the White House as well as through mobilizing Episcopalians around the country to advocate with their lawmakers.

Alex Baumgarten, international policy analyst for OGR and a member of the Presiding Bishop's Cuba delegation, explained that "the Episcopal Church's opposition to the embargo is rooted in a recognition that it has done nothing to bring healing to the long-suffering people of Cuba, but rather has exacerbated and added to their strife."

The Rev. Brian Grieves, director of the Church's Peace and Justice Ministries, also visited Cuba with the Presiding Bishop.

"We found that regardless of anyone's political point of view, everyone opposes the embargo because of all the humanitarian hardships it places on the Cuban people," he said.

Church's witness

In its report to Convention, AIPJC -- whose members traveled to Cuba June 28 - July 5, 2005, under one of the few remaining special travel licenses -- explained that the embargo has "closed nearly all channels of diplomatic, educational and person-to-person contact" between the U.S. and Cuba.

"The punitive effect of the embargo has had particular strain on the mission relationship between Cuban churches and their partners in the United States," Baumgarten explained, "cutting off Cuban churches from deeply needed financial support, theological and educational materials, and even pensions to pay deeply impoverished retired clergy."

Baumgarten noted that "one of the cruelest ironies of U.S. policy is that the churches of Cuba are among the strongest advocates of free thought, free speech, free assembly, and all the other virtues that supporters of the embargo claim to hold dear.

"Punishing the churches is not only cruel, but it serves absolutely no policy interest of the United States," he added.

During its visit to Cuba, the commission was particularly moved by the witness of the IEC and its laity and clergy who "despite enormous economic hardship, lovingly and enthusiastically carry forward Christ's ministry of reconciliation in their own parishes and throughout the country."

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